Multiculturalism undermines diversity - Kenan Malik

Multiculturalism undermines diversity - Kenan Malik

Kenan Malik distinguishes between the positive lived experience of a multicultural society, and multicultural state policies which foster division.

‘Has multiculturalism been good or bad for Britain?’ It’s a question to which the answers have become increasingly polarised in recent years. For some, multiculturalism expresses the essence of a modern, liberal society. For others, it has helped create an anxious, fragmented nation.

Part of the difficulty with this debate is that both sides confuse the lived experience of diversity, on the one hand, with multiculturalism as a political process, on the other. The experience of living in a society transformed by mass immigration, a society that is less insular, more vibrant and more cosmopolitan, is positive.

As a political process, however, multiculturalism means something very different. It describes a set of policies, the aim of which is to manage diversity by putting people into ethnic boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. It is a case, not for open borders and minds, but for the policing of borders, whether physical, cultural or imaginative.

The conflation of lived experience and political policy has proved highly invidious. On the one hand, it has allowed many on the right – and not just on the right - to blame mass immigration for the failures of social policy and to turn minorities into the problem. On the other hand, it has forced many traditional liberals and radicals to abandon classical notions of liberty, such as an attachment to free speech, in the name of defending diversity.

The irony of multiculturalism as a political process is that it undermines much of what is valuable about diversity as lived experience. When we talk about diversity, what we mean is that the world is a messy place, full of clashes and conflicts. That’s all for the good, for such clashes and conflicts are the stuff of political and cultural engagement.

But the very thing that’s valuable about diversity – the clashes and conflicts that it brings about – is the very thing that worries many multiculturalists. They seek to minimise such conflicts by parceling people up into neat ethnic boxes, and policing the boundaries of those boxes in the name of tolerance and respect. Far from minimising conflict what this does is generate a new set of more destructive, less resolvable conflicts.

To say that clashes and conflicts can be good does not mean, of course, that every clash and conflict is a good. Political conflicts are often useful because they repose social problems in a way that asks: ‘How can we change society to overcome that problem?’ We might disagree on the answer, but the debate itself is a useful one.

Multiculturalism, on the other hand, by reposing political problems in terms of culture or faith, transforms political conflicts into a form that makes them neither useful nor resolvable. Rather than ask, for instance, ‘What are the social roots of racism and what structural changes are required to combat it?’, it demands recognition for one’s particular identity, public affirmation of one’s cultural difference and respect for one’s cultural and faith beliefs.

Multicultural policies have come to be seen as a means of empowering minority communities and giving them a voice. In reality such policies have empowered not individuals but ‘community leaders’ who owe their position and influence largely to their relationship with the state. Multicultural policies tend to treat minority communities as homogenous wholes, ignoring class, religious, gender and other differences, and leaving many within those communities feeling misrepresented and, indeed, disenfranchised.

As well as ignoring conflicts within minority communities, multicultural policies have often created conflicts between them. In allocating political power and financial resources according to ethnicity, such policies have forced people to identify themselves in terms of those ethnicities, and those ethnicities alone, inevitably setting off one group against another.

The logical end point of such policies came with Communities Minister John Denham’s announcement last year of £12m for white working class communities. There are clearly many working class, predominantly white, communities crying out for resources, not because they are white, because they have been politically and financially abandoned over the past decade.

Denham’s £12m will, however, do little to solve any of the structural problems facing such communities, such as a lack of jobs and social housing. What it will do is reinforce the idea that whites have an identity, and a set of interests, that is distinct from the identity and interests of other groups.

The aim of Denham’s policy is clearly to ward off the BNP in areas such Barking and Dagenham in East London. Its consequence, however, will be to feed the BNP’s own pursuit of white identity, and to legitimise the idea that such identity needs privileging. And that is perhaps the biggest indictment of multicultural policies: they have helped turn racism into another form of cultural identity.

To challenge all this, we need to separate the debate about immigration and diversity, on the one hand, from that about multiculturalism, on the other, and defend the one, but oppose the other. The lived experience of diversity has been good for Britain. Multiculturalism has been bad.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
May 9 2012 19:00

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  • Multicultural policies have come to be seen as a means of empowering minority communities and giving them a voice. In reality such policies have empowered not individuals but ‘community leaders’ who owe their position and influence largely to their relationship with the state.

    Kenan Malik

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Comments

gerbil
Nov 26 2012 12:48

Kenan Malik is a founder member of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a sect which has mutated, via LM magazine, into the Right Libertarian organisation spearheaded by The Institute of Ideas and Spiked Online, with a heap of front organisations. Malik is still part of the sect's inner circle, and both sets and follows the party line which is based on the teachings of Frank Furedi, Sociology Professor at University of Kent. The RCP/LM loathes the Left with an absolute vengeance, and like all Trot sects has a distinct loathing for anarchists.

Comrades active in the 80s will remember this bunch only too well, and certainly not with fondness. Any coincidence between the RCP line and anarchist ideas is just that - coincidence. They are a pro-corporate Right Libertarian group infamous for media entryism, creating front organisations, extreme Humanism, and contrarianism. They also subscribe to a crass Leninist anti-imperialism which led them to deny the Rwandan genocide and to offer "unconditional support" to the Milosevic/Karadzic regime during the Balkan wars.

For further info on this sect, see the RCP Watch blog, and follow some of its links.

By all means forward RCP writings to libcom, if only on the grounds of free speech, but I'd strongly suggest adding a rider to each article about the RCP.

cardy lady
Nov 27 2012 07:51

not sure what that has to do with the value of this article which should be taken on its own merits, I'm no great fan of spiked but that RCP Watch blog is quite frankly sad, please don't match sad sectarianism with even sadder sectarianism

no1
Nov 27 2012 09:40
gerbil wrote:
a sect which has mutated, via LM magazine, into the Right Libertarian organisation spearheaded by The Institute of Ideas and Spiked Online, with a heap of front organisations. Malik is still part of the sect's inner circle, and both sets and follows the party line which is based on the teachings of Frank Furedi

What gives you reason to believe that they act as a group, and that Malik's writing has to be understood in that light?

gerbil
Nov 27 2012 12:47
Quote:
What gives you reason to believe that they act as a group, and that Malik's writing has to be understood in that light?

I could fill pages answering that. I've had a couple of decades experience with this bunch. Malik's been in the RCP since its foundation in the 70s, stood as an election candidate for the RCP, was active in various RCP fronts in the 80s, and currently writes extensively for RCP/LM websites. A good reference on him and other members of the "LM Network" is at Powerbase.

This is nothing at all to do with sectarianism. The RCP were anti-Left even when they were part of the Left. After the fall of the Wall in 89 they completely gave up on socialism and whizzed off to the libertarian Right. They're not Trots, not Marxists, not socialists, not liberals, but Right libertarians. What differentiates them from so many other Right libertarian lobby groups is that they have extensive influence within the media and the English chatterati due to their highly successful tactics of media entryism. Their reps, particularly Malik, Clare Fox, Tiffany Jenkins, and the Furedis, regularly appear on TV and radio.

Malik does not speak for himself, independently, for all that he's an intellectual. He speaks the party line, albeit that he has some influence in formulating. They all sing from the same hymn sheet, as is clear from their publications, and from reports from people who've attended events such as the Battle of Ideas, and have been part of RCP/LM front movements. (For instance, this account of a Modern Movement activist. )

The RCP/LM is the antithesis of anarchism, and from experience I know that they loathe anarchists with some fervour, perhaps because we believe in real freedom. The 'freedom' they espouse is the 'freedom from' so beloved of corporations and neo-liberals: freedom from taxes, regulations, restrictions. Its only ideology is that of unrestricted material progress.

Malik does make valid points and is worth listening to with a sceptical ear, but you should always bear in mind his organisation and its ideology, the same as you would when listening to, say, a proponent of GM with links to Monsanto. He is not an independent thinker.

gerbil
Nov 27 2012 12:51
Quote:
not sure what that has to do with the value of this article which should be taken on its own merit

If someone's closely linked to an organisation or corporation you wouldn't take their writings on their own merits, you'd see them in the light of those links.

Steven.
Nov 27 2012 19:16
gerbil wrote:
Quote:
not sure what that has to do with the value of this article which should be taken on its own merit

If someone's closely linked to an organisation or corporation you wouldn't take their writings on their own merits, you'd see them in the light of those links.

okay, so what you think are the problems with this article then, or the other one below which you put this same comment?

(In general, I agree with your criticisms of LM/spiked etc, however I don't think that detracts from the good points he makes here)

gerbil
Nov 29 2012 17:03

"okay, so what you think are the problems with this article then, or the other one below which you put this same comment?"

My main point was to raise awareness of where Malik's coming from. He has a high media and academic profile but few realise how close he is to the RCP/LM (or Spiked/IoI).

Looking at his article, two major problems strike me with it:

1. There is no definition of "multiculturalism". It means whatever you want it to mean, and this slipperiness allows the Daily Mail to slag it off or the Guardian to laud it when both are talking about very different things. Malik (deliberately?) makes the same mistake. Multiculturalism is like vice and virtue, terms that everyone seems to agree on but which are very differently defined depending on your moral and political stances.

2. The "white working class" just doesn't exist as a separate entity or category. Liberals love to use this term, even though they have no concept of class as a structural entity, because they think they know what it means, and because it allows them to avoid talking of class struggle and class oppression. The Right use it to identify both a 'problem population' and a 'patriotic' ally to their reactionary project. More analytical members of the Left (such as Owen Jones - see his article at http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/interview-owen-jones-1/ for instance) have no truck with this division of the working class by ethnicity.

Those two concepts are key to Malik's arguments, and both are severely problematic, to put it mildly. He may come from Bradford and thus has some authenticity, but I also lived in the city for many years and saw a mixed working class which, although it did have distinct ethnicities which have been (deliberately) sharpened by Islamophobia and racism in the last decade, was far more 'integrated' than Malik makes out. I worked and lived with Asian (muslim, hindu, sikh, and plain secular) workers and their culture, and accents, were a curious and entertaining hybrid of native Yorkshire and the culture of their parents. They were becoming a particularly Bradford mix, and did see themselves as having much in common with 'native' workers, such that white, black, brown and more literally fought side by side against fascists and cops.

"(In general, I agree with your criticisms of LM/spiked etc, however I don't think that detracts from the good points he makes here) "

Perhaps not, but his thoughts are heavily influenced by the Right Libertarian and virulently anti-Left party line/agenda of the RCP/LM and should be read with that in mind. For all that he couches his arguments in relatively gentle terms, compared to the other rottweilers of the sect (Brendan O'Neill and Claire Fox being good examples of the RCP/LMs aggressiveness), he's clearly putting the boot into the Left in this and other articles he's written, and when he speaks on the Moral Maze.

Steven.
Nov 29 2012 21:59

I'm aware of problems with Spiked, etc, as I said, but I still don't see any problem with this article.

Jenre
Apr 10 2014 16:56

It's been a long time since I read it but I think this piece [Croissants and roses - New Labour, communalism, and the rise of muslim Britain] from Aufheben #22 covers this subject well, and probably in more depth. Although, it is obviously a bit more specific to Muslim communities in the UK and New Labour it does give a good general critiquw of official state-sponsored "multiculturalism" and community leaders etc.

Edit: Sorry, I just realised how old the original post was, can't remember exactly how I got here so sorry to bring it up again!